Here’s the question we’re answering this week:
“How do I get my horse to stand still while I am mounting on a loose rein without flexing his head around?”
First, lets understand things from the horse’s perspective. I know, we say that a lot, don’t we? But our good friend Tom Dorrance said that you have to work the horse from where he is. Having said that, understand why the horse may be moving. Have we taught him to stand still without mounting? Are his feet equally spread out to insure balance on his part as we pull ourselves up on his back? Are we keeping our body close to the horse as we step up? Is he nervous? Do we immediately ask him to walk as soon as we get in the saddle? Have we accepted the walk-off in the past and it’s just getting a little out of hand? These are just a few reasons he might be walking off and we are to blame for all. It’s not his fault!
We’ll address the stand still first while we are by his side. Using a halter and a slack lead approach your saddled horse with relaxed energy and begin to rub him thoroughly along his neck, back, rump and legs. If your horse wants to move, gently ask him to stand and continue to rub. No patting, just rubbing. You should be able to retreat and return without the horse’s energy changing. If he moves, rub him to a stop. When you can move all around the horse, both sides, behind and front and he stays relaxed, we’re ready to move on the step two.
Next, while holding the lead relaxed but enough to control the hip if he steps off, lift and slap the stirrups, saddle seat, and pull and push on the horn or seat. We’re creating energy but not asking the horse to move off. If he moves, continue the exercise until he comes back to a stop then release your energy. Again, both sides until he continues to relax. If we hold the lead to tight we’re just babysitting the horse. He should be held accountable to stand on his own. Retreat and return and repeat several times, both sides.
Now, approach your horse, lead relaxed, and place your left hand, holding the lead, on the mane just in front of the saddle. Raise and lower your left leg as if you’re going to mount. If the horse moves off continue the exercise without stopping until he stands for you to raise your leg to the stirrup. Rub and relax. If he just can’t catch on, pick up the lead and rush his hip around in a circle for about five seconds if he moves. Release pressure and rub. Before long he’ll figure out when he moves without being asked you move him with way too much energy for his comfort. If he moves backwards, just back him with the same elevated energy. Retreat and repeat several times, both sides.
Time for the next step. This time we’re going to square the feet up. Gently push and pull the horse until he squares up his feet. This will give him a good foundation as you apply weight to the stirrup. The more you push and pull the more he will plant himself in a good square position. Now, with the lead in your left hand grasp the mane just in front of the saddle and place your toe in the stirrup. Apply weight gradually and release. Again, increasing pressure each time until you have stepped up, but not across the saddle. If he moves, return to the ground and briskly move your horse. If he steps forward, move him backwards a couple of seconds, sideways and move the hip! You’ll be surprised how fast he’ll catch on as long as you help his balance by keeping your weight close to him when you’re stepping up. At this point, don’t correct his movement from the saddle. Retreat and repeat several times both sides. You should be able to step up, lean over the saddle and rub the horse on his opposite side with him relaxed. This also makes him aware that, when mounting, parts of your body will be moving to the other side of his body and that he’ll likely feel you there before he sees you. A lesson I learned the hard way several years ago on a very skittish horse.
Now, bridle your horse in a snaffle bit, repeat step four using only your left rein, this time moving your leg across your horse and settling lightly in the saddle. If he moves off as you settle down, pick up on your left rein to flex his head left and move his hip quickly to the right a couple of rotations using your left leg. Release the leg when he stops and relaxes, then release the head and dismount. Do not use either rein to stop movement! That’s babysitting. Let him be accountable for his actions. Dismount and repeat several times each side.
When I can quietly mount my horse without movement I may give him a few tasks before I ever walk off. We may work on lateral flexion, I may rub on him a bit, I may even make a phone call, we may work on vertical flexion or back up a few times before we ever walk off. I don’t want my horse to assume anything. Change it up! Another important point—I never pick up on two reins to ask the horse to stand at this point. Dropped reins make him accountable for his actions!
Have a good ride!